The Cubs won 73 games last year, which was the most the team had won since 2010 and a respectable improvement on the 66 wins from 2013. But 73 is still a long way from the playoffs. It took 88 wins to make it last year and looking back the last 25 years that is almost always what it takes (other than about a dozen odd exceptions). Yet many pundits are giving the Cubs a strong chance of climbing all the way to the playoffs, and Cubs fans, of course, are hopeful of such a rise. So what does it look like when a team climbs from a win total in the low 70s one year to the high 80s the next? Is it about free agent acquisitions, recovery from injuries, or maturing young talent? Is there a typical path that teams take and are the Cubs on that path?
To answer these questions, I examined all playoff teams over the past 25 years (since 1990) and noted the number of wins they had the prior year. I excluded years 1994-1996 given the strike-shortened schedules that made comparisons difficult. Overall, there were 166 playoff teams in that span, and most were in the playoffs or had solid records the prior year (the average was 87 wins). There were, however, 41 teams that finished below .500 the year before. Of those, there were 16 teams that had 73 wins or less. This includes the Cubs three times. I touch on all 16 teams below to highlight some the paths teams have taken and conclude with thoughts on whether or not such a jump is realistic for the 2015 Cubs.